The Occasional Athlete

A cyclist trying to be fast(-ish) again

How I Got 41% Faster in Six Months

Posted at — Jul 21, 2020

OK, it’s a bit of a click-bait title, but it is a true statistic - I went from 91kg with a 260W FTP (2.9W/kg) to 74kg with a 300W FTP (4.1W/kg) in just over six months. That’s a 41% increase in my power to weight ratio! Unsurprisingly, I can now cycle a lot faster and finally defeated my nemesis.

How did I manage this? Well, it was actually quite straightforward (straightforward definitely does not mean easy!) I didn’t adhere to any stupid diets or follow whatever workout regime is in fashion at the moment. I stopped eating too much, trained consistently, and trained hard.

How I Lost the Weight

I love junk food. Take away, chocolate, cake… I’m getting hungry at just the thought of all those delicious things! I obviously had to cut all these out to lose so much weight, right? Nope! Let me explain.

Initially, I didn’t change my diet at all. I focused on training. I entered Tour of the Peak - 185km over the toughest passes in the Peak District - and followed my (TrainerRoad) plan to the letter. Through consistent training the first 6kg had fallen off by March. After a few weeks stuck around 84kg I realised simply training hard wasn’t enough. I needed to address my diet.

How did I do this? Well, I didn’t cut anything out. Completely cutting out things you like is setting yourself up to fail. If your diet makes you miserable most people will crack and give up. I still eat junk food, but I eat a lot less of it. For example, I still have something sweet more-or-less every day but I’ll now only have one biscuit instead of half a packet!

Lockdown actually made this a lot easier. I was no longer able to have several breakfasts a week at my favourite café (followed by a muffin and washed down with a couple of flat whites, obviously) and with my girlfriend working at home her not-so-silent judgment kept my snacking down. She has actually been instrumental in my weight loss. She bakes many wonderful things but, unlike me, is able to control her (and my!) portion sizes.

Delicious cake!

Delicious cake!

It certainly wasn’t easy to cut down all these tasty things. However, after a few weeks it became habit and seeing my performance continually improve was a huge motivator.

How I Gained the Watts

This was way more effort than losing the weight, but also way more fun - I’ve always enjoyed smashing workouts, and the fitter I get the more I enjoy it!

I’ve been using TrainerRoad’s plans on and off for several years now and have always found them very effective. 5-15 minutes of super-threshold effort is what would be required to get over the big climbs in Tour of the Peak so I followed a standard base-build-specialty plan focussed on improving my sustained power output at this intensity.

Obviously the event didn’t happen, but by May my sustained power had improved dramatically. I’d improved my threshold a fair amount, but the most dramatic improvement was how comfortable riding just under threshold now felt.

That’s when I hit a plateau. My FTP was stuck on 294W so I had to make some changes. I think there were two reasons for this plateau - I hadn’t done much high intensity work (VO2max) and I’d had a sizeable calorie deficit whilst losing weight. Now I’d achieved my goal weight of 75kg I started eating more (not cookies!) and straight away felt stronger.

I also needed to mix up my training so spent an eight week block focussed on short, VO2max efforts whilst increasing my volume of easy riding. Something much more akin to polarised training.

The result? I tested a couple of weeks ago and my FTP had risen to 300W!

What next?

Well, that’s where I am. This evening is my first (outdoor) race of the year - my club’s weekly 10 mile time trial. Hopefully my improved numbers will translate to a good time. Best Bike Split predicts I’ll ride around 22 minutes, though this seems a little generous to me. If I do achieve that time it would be a sizeable chunk off my best of 22:32 set 9 years ago! In my next post I’ll discuss how the race went.